White House Defends Kellyanne Conway After Federal Watchdog Calls for Her Removal

June 13, 2019 Updated: June 14, 2019

The White House counsel issued a scathing letter on June 13 defending the president’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, after a federal watchdog accused her of violating the Hatch Act and called on the president to fire her.

The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel (OSC)—not to be confused with the special counsel investigation formerly run by Robert Mueller—issued a report (pdf) on June 13 accusing Conway of violating the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits federal employees from activities that can influence an election.

In a June 11 letter responding to the OSC, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote that the “report is based on multiple fundamental legal and factual errors, makes unfair and unsupported claims against a close adviser to the president, is a product of a blatantly unfair process that ignored statutory notice requirements, and has been influenced by various inappropriate considerations.”

Cipollone called on the OSC to retract the report, demanded documents related to the document’s preparation, and asked the watchdog to engage in dialogue with the White House.

The OSC report accuses Conway of violating the Hatch Act on several occasions, including through her use of Twitter and appearances on television. In a letter accompanying the report, special counsel Henry Kerner asks Trump to remove Conway to set an example for other federal employees.

“As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” Kerner wrote. “Her actions erode the principal foundation of our Democratic system—the rule of law.”

The OSC’s report opens with a reference to a recent media comment by Conway in which she ridicules the OSC’s prior accusations against her. The report then alleges that she violated the Hatch Act in various media interviews and Twitter posts.

Cipollone pointed out that the OSC provided the White House with a copy of the report on Conway at 5 p.m. on May 29 and demanded a response by 9 a.m. the following morning.

“OSC’s patently unreasonable demand for an overnight response, standing alone, shows that the report was the result of a fatally flawed process,” Cipollone wrote.

According to Cipollone, White House officials met with representatives from the OSC on March 19 and March 28 to address Conway’s use of Twitter. In those meetings, White House officials challenged the OSC’s authority to issue rules for the use of social media. The Hatch Act assigns rulemaking responsibilities to the Office of Personnel Management, Cipollone argued.

Cipollone also faulted the OSC for potentially violating Conway’s due process rights by failing to notify her about the specific allegations in the report and allow her to respond to each item. The OSC also acted out of other improper motivations, Cipollone said, citing a call with the OSC. The motivations included pressure to address media inquiries about Conway’s remarks on May 29 and “the need to be mindful of interest from politicians outside the office.”

The White House also argues that the OSC’s guidance is overly broad and encroaches on Conway’s First Amendment right to free speech. Cipollone cited statistics to show that Conway’s Twitter use is a mix of personal, political, and work-related matters. The attorney also pointed out that Conway doesn’t use her official title in her Twitter profile and doesn’t perform any of her work duties using the Twitter account.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov
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